Blog on hold.....

As most of my birding is going to be concentrated at my local patch at Holmethorpe Sand Pits, near Redhill, Surrey this year and Paul has had other commitments taking up much of his time, there will only be occasional updates to this blog during most of 2011.

All the daily sightings for Holmethorpe Sand Pits can still be found at


Another wader pays Holmethorpe SPs a brief visit ... 20th-22nd February 2011

The pair of SHELDUCK have remained at Spynes Mere throughout and on the 20th Gordon Hay found a flock of 34 Lesser Redpolls at Mercers Country Park but no Mealies were amongst them.
Also on the 20th, Ian Kehl found three Treecreepers, also at Mercers CP, which is a high count for the area. Redwings are still present in reasonable numbers with Gordon finding around 60 birds on the 20th.

The pair of Shelduck remain faithful to Spynes Mere.

On the 21st and 22nd, the LITTLE EGRET was seen again at The Moors NR and, on the morning of the 21st, ten Wigeon had appeared at Mercers West Pit, the count rising to 13 birds by the afternoon. Gordon added a Common Buzzard to the day’s tally and counted 25 Fieldfares, numbers of which have definitely started to drop in the area. On the same day, I had a good count of 162 Common Gulls on Spynes Mere in the morning.

Wigeon in the gloom.

The 22nd proved to be another wader day with Gordon Hay finding a DUNLIN on the sandspit at Spynes Mere in the early afternoon, I managed to see it for a while up to 2.10 p.m. but by the time Neil Randon managed to get there just before 3 p.m., the bird had flown, presumably flushed by a fox that was wandering about on the sandspit.
During the morning, I had heard a Water Rail calling along the southern bank of Mercers Lake but it took about 15 minutes for it to briefly reveal itself. Only one drake Wigeon remained from yesterday's arrival. Gordon counted 131 Lesser Black-backed Gulls on Spynes Mere and 2 Green Sandpipers on Mercers West Pit.

Dunlin at Spynes Mere.

With a Grey Plover and a Ringed Plover being seen at Beddington SF, only ten miles or so to the north of Holmethorpe SPs, and a Curlew dropping into Canon’s Farm at Banstead, also only a few miles away, over the past few days, it is obvious that waders are on the move in the grey and gloomy conditions, so we await our next arrival.


Oystercatcher drops in at Holmethorpe SPs, Surrey ... 19th February 2011


I received a phone call from Gordon Hay saying he had found an OYSTERCATCHER at Mercers West Pit at Holmethorpe SPs during the afternoon.

I soon joined Gordon by the metal gate overlooking the pit and we waited for Johnny 'Badgeman' Allan, Kevin 'Kojak' Guest, Neil 'Factor' Randon and Ian 'Ferruginous' Kehl to join us.
Luckily, the bird was still present when they arrived and we all managed to add it to our local and Surrey year lists.

The light was not great but it was possible to get a few grainy shots.

Waders don't normally hang around long at Holmethorpe but this bird looked fairly settled and, hopefully, it will hang around for tomorrow.


L to R: Neil Randon, Kevin Guest, Johnny Allan, Ian Kehl and Gordon Hay.

Holmethorpe Sand Pits. Surrey ... 11th -18th February 2011

Things have gone a bit quiet at Holmethorpe Sand Pits over the past few days with the SMEW - 3 females - being last seen on the 12th and the drake RED-CRESTED POCHARD of unknown, but dubious, origin being seen again at The Moors NR on the morning of the 13th, but not since. LITTLE EGRETS have become regular at The Moors NR with two birds present on the 13th and one bird on the 12th, 14th and from the 16th to the 18th.

LITTLE EGRET at The Moors NR on the 18th Feb.

SHELDUCK have become regular too, with five birds seen on the 16th (a male at Mercers West Pit, a pair at Spynes Mere and a pair flying over heading west.

Male SHELDUCK at Spynes Mere

A Common Buzzard was seen at Mercers Farm on the morning of the 17th with possibly a second bird over the Water Colour Lagoons early in the afternoon. These were the only raptors seen during the past few days and, surprisingly, no Kestrels have been noted at all since the start of the month.
Single Green Sandpipers were seen on the 14th, 16th and 17th and a few Common Snipe have shown with four birds seen on the 18th. There are probably a lot more on The Moors NR but there is no access to this area. Lapwings are still in reasonable numbers with around 180 birds on the 13th.

GREAT CRESTED GREBES in courtship display.

Wildfowl are thinning out now with Gadwall showing the most noticeable reduction in numbers – the best count being about 30 on the 13th. A few Pochards are still around with 12 birds on the 13th being the best count but Teal are holding on with a best count of around 45 on the 18th. Shoveler peaked at around 20 on the 13th. Three drake Wigeon put in a brief appearance on the 17th at Mercers West Pit in the morning but had moved on by early afternoon.

Male WIGEON at Mercers West Pit on the 17th Feb.

Despite reasonable numbers of gulls at the pits, we have yet to find any of the scarcer species so far this year, although Gordon Hay and I were intrigued by one gull at Spynes Mere on the 18th. It immediately stood out from the other gulls present, as large as a Herring Gull and having a pure white head, neck and breast, a small beady eye and long primaries. The most obvious feature though was the long narrow bill. Unfortunately, seen in the misty conditions and back-lit by the sun trying to break through the mist, assessing mantle colour was not easy. At times looking as dark as a Common Gull, at other times very pale grey. Was it a Caspian? We concluded that the head looked too large and that the forehead did not slope enough. Also, it did not show the high-chested and slender, attenuated body of a Caspian. Probably just a long, thin-billed Herring Gull but I would invite you to leave a comment as to whether you agree or not.

The mystery gull.

Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are still around in reasonable numbers with 48 of the former at Spynes Mere on the 18th and 47 of the latter at the same site on the 12th.
The only Water Rail seen during the past few days was one at Fordbridge on the 12th but, as the brook is running high at present, the remaining birds may have moved to a shallower area. It is surprising that this species doesn’t stay to breed at Holmethorpe as there is suitable habitat present.
Kingfishers were seen on the 13th and the 16th and there have been a few sightings of single Grey Wagtails, mainly on the sewage works filter beds. The filter beds have also attracted up to 70 Pied Wagtails recently.
The only Siskins reported were about 8 on the 18th but at least 40 Lesser Redpolls appeared in one flock on the 14th, feeding in silver birches near the Mercers Country Park car park. I scanned the flock for about ten minutes but failed to locate any Mealies amongst them.


A few sightings of Bullfinches, Treecreepers, Coal Tits and Goldcrests made up the best of the rest.

Male BULLFINCH at Mercers Country Park.

Amazing to think that we are less than a month away from picking up some early spring migrants (hopefully).


Holmethorpe Sand Pits, Surrey ... 1st - 10th February 2011

Holmethorpe Sand Pits continue to host up to 3 redhead SMEW on Mercers West Pit, although they can prove elusive at times.


The female and first-winter GOLDENEYE remained until the 8th, but haven’t been seen since and have, presumably, moved on.


A pair of Shelduck have been present intermittently and 3 birds were seen on the 8th when a drake was on Mercers West Pit and a pair flew over heading east.


A drake RED-CRESTED POCHARD was briefly at Water Colour Lagoon 1 early on the 10th before it flew off strongly to the east. It has been added to our year list as being of unknown origin as the status of this species in Surrey is somewhat clouded as self-sustaining feral birds do exist but also many birds are kept in collections. Normally, we don’t see this species turn up at the pits before mid-April but that in itself doesn’t clarify the situation regarding this drake.


LITTLE EGRETS are appearing more regularly now, with single birds seen on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th and 8th, two birds on 6th and 10th and three individuals on the 9th.


Green Sandpipers are also being seen occasionally at Mercers West Pit with 2 birds present on the 6th. Seven Wigeon (a drake and 5 females) were at the same pit on the 1st.
In general though, wildfowl numbers are declining with maximum counts since the start of February being 45 Gadwall, 22 Pochard, 35 Teal and 21 Shoveler. Up to 3 Egyptian Geese have appeared at the pits during the last ten days with up to 46 Canada Geese and 98 Greylag Geese being counted.
A Water Rail has been seen at Fordbridge, near the entrance to the Water Colour housing development, on the 1st, 8th & 10th. This bird favours the stream on The Moors NR side of the road. A male Kingfisher was seen on the 6th.


Raptors haven’t been much of a feature in February so far, with just 3 Common Buzzards together on the 3rd, single Sparrowhawks seen on the 1st, 6th and 8th and, surprisingly, no Kestrels reported so far this month.


Single Common Snipe have been seen on four dates but, as they are mainly concentrated at The Moors NR where there is no public access, many more are probably in the area. No Lapwing counts have been taken so far this month but I would estimate that up to 150 birds have been present since the start of the month.

A few Great Black--backed Gulls have been present with 15 seen on the 8th at Nutfield Ridge and Lesser Black-backeds Gulls have been seen in good numbers for Holmethorpe with 85 birds on the 8th, also roosting at Nutfield Ridge where there were around 1000 Black-headed Gulls on the same date. There must have been a movement of Common Gulls on the 9th when 252 birds turned up at Spynes Mere and on the same date Gordon Hay counted 510 birds roosting on a field at Godstone, a few miles away.


Holmethorpe’s resident Little Owls have only been seen on a couple of dates so far this month and Siskins are often being seen, but not in great numbers – the best count being 12 birds on the 6th. Bullfinches are regularly noted at Holmethorpe and there were 4 birds seen on the 6th and the 9th.


The stubble field at Mercers Farm has now been ploughed and, as a consequence, Skylarks seem to have moved off but they should return again once a crop has been sown. Yellowhammers at the farm were concentrated into a smaller and smaller area of stubble as the ploughing took place and around 60 birds were noted on the 6th. Occasional single Grey Wagtails have been noted at the sewage treatment works along with up to 47 Pied Wagtails and a single Meadow Pipit. This is an underwatched area due to there being no access and the filter beds being only visible through a small gap in the hedge along the northern path at Mercers Country Park. During the summer, when the hedge is in full leaf, it is almost impossible to view.
A couple of Coal Tits and Goldcrests have been noted at Mercers Country Park and there are still reasonable numbers of Redwings but much fewer Fieldfares now.

Overwintering Chiffchaffs have been a regular feature at Holmethorpe in previous years and on the 3rd December last year Gordon Hay and I counted 6 birds in the area but, since the freeze-up and the start of 2011, none have been reported. Hopefully, they just moved on and didn’t succumb to the cold conditions.

WAXWINGS have continued to put in an occasional appearance around Frenches Road at Redhill, which is close to Holmethorpe Sand Pits, with Neil Randon noting 18 birds on the 3rd, 15 birds on the 7th and a single bird on the 8th. The rotting apples that they were feeding on are almost gone, so the birds may soon move on.

February can be a difficult month to add new species to the year list but we are still hopeful that a Goosander or a Pintail may drop in at some stage.


Holmethorpe SPs, Surrey … 24th – 31st January 2011

The 24th produced the two long-staying female SMEW again, a LITTLE EGRET, a JACK SNIPE, a Shelduck, a Green Sandpiper and a Water Rail around the various pits. There were still reasonable numbers of wildfowl with counts of 60 Gadwall, 58 Teal, 16 Pochard and 34 Shoveler. Most of these counts were made by the Surrey Wildlife Trust’s voluntary warden, Simon Elson, whilst making his WEBS count. On the same date I had an enjoyable morning in the company of Kevin Guest, one of the Beddington SF birders who also keeps a Holmethorpe SPs list. We added a female GOLDENEYE, 2 Grey Wagtails, 5 Lesser Redpolls and a Little Owl, amongst others, to the day’s tally.



On the 25th, Holmethorpe regular Gordon Hay found one female SMEW and 2 female GOLDENEYE and 14 Wigeon on Mercers West Pit and a female Shelduck on Spynes Mere.

I spent a while birding with Gordon on the 26th and we noted the female SMEW and the 2 female GOLDENEYE again on Mercers West Pit and there were a pair of Shelduck on Spynes Mere. Other birds seen included a Green Sandpiper, 7 Common Snipe, 17 Pochard and 6 Egyptian Geese.


There were no reports on the 27th but the 28th produced 2 Shelduck, a LITTLE EGRET, a Green Sandpiper, a female GOLDENEYE, 23 Shoveler and an impressive count of gulls for the area, all made by Gordon Hay, which consisted of around 4000 Black-headed Gulls, 143 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 100 Common Gulls, 800 Herring Gulls and 28 Great Black-backed Gulls.

A visit to Holmethorpe on the 29th by David Campbell (a young birder who is increasingly making a name for himself amongst the birders in Surrey - see his blog at and Kevin Guest saw the find the 2 female SMEW, a female and a first-winter GOLDENEYE and a Little Owl amongst others species and Gordon Hay added an impressive count of around 80 Skylarks at Mercers Farm.

On the 30th, Gordon Hay found 3 female SMEW, the female and first-winter GOLDENEYE, a LITTLE EGRET, a Common Buzzard, a Green Sandpiper, 15 Siskins and heard a Water Rail, whilst Ian Kehl added 5 Common Snipe, 3 Lesser Redpolls and a Kingfisher for the day.

I ventured to the pits on last day of January and found the 2 female SMEW, the 2 GOLDENEYE and the LITTLE EGRET still present plus a Kingfisher, 13 Siskins, 55 Gadwall and heard a Water Rail.


WAXWINGS have continued to attract birders to Frenches Road, Redhill (only a few hundred yards from the Holmethorpe bird recording area boundary) with 7 seen on the 26th, around 20 on the 27th and 4 birds on the 30th. The apple trees that they have been feeding on are now well depleted of fruit so they may not stay for much longer.